Six minutes and 47 seconds. That’s the running time of Hair Love, Karen Rupert Toliver and Matthew A. Cherry’s animated film that took home the Oscar for Best Animated Short at the 2020 Academy Awards.
It might have been a short, but the message was big. And multifaceted. And very timely.
The short, which screened before the Angry Birds 2 movie (which qualified it to compete for the Oscar), is not only an homage to self-confidence and the relationship between dads and daughters, the larger message is to love yourself—and your natural hair—just the way it (and you) are. “We have a firm belief that representation matters deeply. In cartoons, that’s [where] we first see our movies.” Rupert Tolliver said in her acceptance speech, “and that’s how we shape our lives and think about how we see the world.”
In his speech, Cherry explained that they made the short “Because we wanted to see more representation in animation; we wanted to normalize black hair. There’s a very important issue out there…the CROWN Act.”
Is black hair really an issue? It is. Hair is your identity; it shows the world who you are—being forced to look like someone else sends a message that you’re not good enough. Plus, if you don’t do it, you could possibly become the subject of unequal or inferior treatment.
But not in the Golden State. California became the first state to ban discrimination against black students and employees over their natural hairstyles. The law, called the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act (SB 188, Mitchell) was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in July 2019 and went into effect on January 1, 2020. New York and New Jersey have followed suit, as have the Montgomery County, MD and the city of Cincinnati, OH. At this time, 22 other states have pre-filed, filed, or are planning to introduce the CROWN Act or similar legislation.
Now and in the past, African American women experienced discrimination in hiring, not because of their business acumen, but because their hair was not “businesslike.” In predominantly white schools, black girls are being suspended for wearing their hair in Afros or braids, because the styles are deemed “inappropriate” or considered a “distraction” in the classroom.
It happens to men as well. Last year, a black high school wrestler in New Jersey was publicly forced by a referee to cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit the match. This year, Deandre Arnold, a senior attending a high school in Mont Belvieu, TX, was given an ultimatum: Cut off your dreadlocks or you cannot return to school or walk in graduation. He chose to keep his hair.
For decades, African American women have used styling tools and products to press, iron, relax, hot comb, pomade, and tame their naturally kinky coils and curls into manes resembling the more-acceptable “slippery hair” of their non-African-American counterparts. This process not only took hours or an entire day, but at times could be very painful, not just physically, but emotionally as well.
According to owners of black hair salons, style trends are changing. Requests for the traditional press-and-curl are disappearing, and dreadlocks, twists, braids, Afros, Bantu knots and other natural styles are on the rise. The new, natural looks are being seen in places from the red carpet to Capitol Hill. “It’s about practicality,” said stylist Kim Dafney, owner of Kim’s Touch of Class Hair Design in Northridge, CA, said in a November interview with the Los Angeles Times. “People want simplicity, something they can manage all week. … And not just black people. Whites come in for braids, twists and extensions—styles that blacks have worn for years.”
The takeaway? Sometimes, change has to be made in big ways, like the CROWN Act; other changes can start in as little as six minutes and 47 seconds.
Need a hair stylist or barber? Check the license first with the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology: www.barbercosmo.ca.gov
Watch Hair Love on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNw8V_Fkw28
Watch Karen Rupert Toliver and Matthew A. Cherry’s acceptance speech: https://tinyurl.com/renh6sr
Visit the CROWN Act website: https://www.thecrownact.com/